by Minor Lile
After nearly six months of work, the San Juan County Charter Review Commission presented six proposed amendments to the county’s Home Rule Charter at the July 13 council meeting.
The CRC worked into the evening on Monday, finalizing the proposed amendments that were presented to the council. Final documentation was sent just over an hour before the meeting began on Tuesday morning.
If adopted by voters at the November general election, the proposed amendments would: 1) amend the introduction to the charter to include a Coast Salish Land Acknowledgement, update the preamble and provide a statement of shared community values; 2) establish a three-term limit for county council members; 3) create a San Juan County Climate and Environment Commission; 4) create a San Juan County Justice, Equity and Inclusion Commission; 5) incorporate non-discrimination language and related provisions into the charter; and 6) ease the rules governing the initiative and referendum process within the county.
“In the end, we have put together some extremely important amendments to the Charter,” wrote CRC Chair Kevin Ranker. “Over six months, significant research and hundreds of residents’ input led to the proposed amendments we are presenting today. They are comprehensive and bold. I am looking forward to the community discussion that will take place between now and November.”
All three council members expressed appreciation to the CRC for the many hours of volunteer effort that they have put into developing the proposals. Although the council has no authority under the charter review process to modify or reject the amendments offered by the CRC, they also noted that they had not yet had time to review the proposed amendments prior to the meeting and arranged to discuss the proposals further at their July 20 meeting before passing them on to the auditor.
A few questions were raised after Ranker’s presentation at Tuesday’s Council meeting.
Councilmember Cindy Wolf expressed some dissatisfaction with the process, saying, “I do wish that the final language had been available earlier. I also wish that voices could have been heard earlier. When I did try to comment while your deliberations were going on, I was told (by CRC chair Kevin Ranker) that it was inappropriate. So I have a few friendly questions, and I think there are things that probably should have been thought about before the language was finalized.”
Wolf then asked a question about whether the membership composition of the proposed Climate and Environment Commission was legally justifiable. Ranker replied that in his view there were no significant concerns and that none had been raised by Prosecuting Attorney Randall Gaylord in his office’s review of the proposed amendments.
Wolf also addressed the proposed changes to the initiative and referendum process, saying that while she supported having “paid signature gatherers wear a badge” and lowering the number of required signatures, in her view removing the requirement that backers of an initiative identify funding sources was problematic.
“If citizens want to put forward an initiative, I think there needs to be some provision for thinking through how it is going to be paid for,” she said.
Council Chair Jamie Stephens asked what purpose the proposed Climate and Environment Commission would serve given that the council had taken action a few weeks ago to create a similar Citizen’s Advisory Committee.
In response, Ranker said the anticipated role of the proposed commission was to oversee the county’s activity related to the environment and select future directors of the department.
Stephens responded by saying, “Other than vetting the director, it (what the CRC is proposing) seems like a distinction without a difference. All our advisory committees do this kind of thing, but if that’s what you’re putting forward that’s what you’re putting forward.”
The CRC continues to work on three more amendments to the charter that are likely to be presented later in the year and will be offered on the ballot in November 2022. These additional amendments would provide for the creation of a public advocate/ombudsperson position within county government, provide for the eventual adoption of a ranked-choice voting system in the county and address certain issues related to the work of the next Charter Review Commission. They also plan to provide the council with an additional set of recommendations to consider.
More information can be found on the Charter Review Commission webpage at https://www.sanjuanco.com/1764/Charter-Review-Commission